In its prime, San Francisco’s Flipper was a magnificent, fascinating entity, playing what might have been typical hardcore music at an unsettlingly slow speed: like a 45 slowed down to sub-LP pace, a flawless impression of a downed-out hardcore band. The harsh music lumbers and creaks, oozing feedback all the way. Flipper could be your car on the verge of a total breakdown or your worst hangover nightmare amped up to brain-splitting volume. As if staggered by the weight of reality but determined to plod forward anyway, leaders Bruce Lose and Will Shatter (both usually on bass and vocals) groaned and howled while Ted Falconi’s clangorous guitars sputtered and wheezed. Flipper’s cathartic noise — sort of a foul-smelling castor oil for the ears — was more than a gimmick, though. For all the intentional sloppiness and gratuitous noise, not to mention the superficial shock of Generic Flipper tunes like “Life Is Cheap” and “Shed No Tears,” Flipper can be uplifting. Underneath the tumult you’ll find compassion, idealism and hope, best represented by “Life” (“the only thing worth living for”). That kind of moral statement takes courage.
Blow’n Chunks is a primo live tape of the band onstage in New York, November 1983. Playing all the hits that made them a legend — like “Love Canal” and “Ha Ha Ha” — as well as previewing some songs that made it onto the next LP, the quartet drones along like a factory shutting down for the weekend, a stunning roar of guitar noise and bass pounding that is simply the ultimate loud rock’n’roll imaginable. A real classic album, and the ideal floor-clearer for any club.
Flipper’s second studio album, Gone Fishin’, makes an ambitious effort to add unexpected sonic components to the din. With vocals taking a clearly predominant role, oddities like clavinet, sax, piano and even open spaces (!?!?) lurk around, while newly sophisticated rhythms (as on the consti/synco-pated “First the Heart”) and a relatively restrained mix make Flipper resemble a “normal” band at times. If all you want from Flipper is a visceral thrill, try the live tape; if you want to understand their creative mind, Gone Fishin’ is the ideal synthesis of sickness and health.
Perhaps sensing that stages held the key to truest Flipperhood, the band’s next release was the two-record career-spanning concert compilation, Public Flipper Limited. (The PiL parody here is revenge for that group’s apparent appropriation of Flipper’s generic labelling concept for their 1986 Album.) Wrapped in a foldout poster-cum-“Flipper on Tour” game, the LP offers a fine selection of tracks, from “Love Canal” to “Sex Bomb” to “Life” to “Flipper Blues.” The obnoxious onstage patter only adds to the mind-boggling raucous entertainment.
Shatter’s death in December 1987 (from a heroin overdose) didn’t stanch the vinyl flow. Sex Bomb Baby! compiles all of Flipper’s singles (six sides) and tracks from sampler albums, going as far back as the group’s 1979 recorded debut on Subterranean’s first release, the SF Underground collection. The cassette adds three live tracks from the 1980 Live at Target compilation; limited quantities of the album contain Bruce Lose’s solo single as a bonus.
The 1991 return of a reconstituted Flipper — fronted by Bruce (no longer Lose, and not playing bass) Loose and featuring original bandmates Ted Falconi and Steve DePace (killer drums), plus new bassist John Dougherty — was one of the most unexpected comebacks ever. Although the sense of exploring new territory, not to mention the dadaist absurdity, are inevitably somewhat faded on American Grafishy, mind-twisting displays like “Fucked Up Once Again” and “Flipper Twist” (right on!) prove the band’s patented approach to noise still packs a punch.
Any Three Initials, a Shatter side project, was recorded in 1986. Joined by three local musicians (two from the band Bad Posture), Shatter is the lyricist and singer on A3I’s Ruins of America, a varied album of country music, dirge-rock, PiL-esque anti-pop and other related styles, with subject matter as diverse as meteoric conditions and humanist philosophy. When the going gets rough, the ghost of Flipper rises from the platter; other tracks might be by anybody but that group.
Shatter and Flipper drummer Steve DePace were in a pre- Flipper band called Negative Trend, which released the four-song We Don’t Play, We Riot, recorded in 1978, in 1982.